Neurodiversity: the little-known superpower

A new Korn Ferry report explores how understanding neurodiversity can help companies thrive.

Amelia Haynes

Associate Researcher, Korn Ferry Institute

Whether you know it or not, there is a good chance that you work with someone who is neurodiverse.

Neurodiverse people make up roughly 20% of the population, cutting across all demographics. Yet, despite the prevalence of neurodiversity, neurodiverse talent face barriers and discrimination at work, including high levels of unemployment, underemployment, pay disparity, and undue discipline. In the United States, for example, less than a third of people with cognitive disabilities, including people identified as neurodiverse, were employed in 2018, according to federal statistics. “Neurodiverse people may be one of the largest underrepresented groups in the workplace,” says Amelia Haynes, associate researcher at the Korn Ferry Institute, Korn Ferry’s research arm.

For many people, the term “neurodiversity” may be new or unfamiliar. Rather than being understood as inherent disorders, neurodiversity is about the different ways genes can be expressed that diverge from what is considered “normal.” In other words, people who are neurodiverse see, feel, and experience the world differently as a result of atypical brain function, which means they approach the world’s problems—and its solutions—from unconventional angles.

By overlooking neurodiverse talent, Haynes says, organizations are missing out on a critical opportunity to tap into these unique perspectives to fuel innovation and growth. “Companies have the chance to leverage the insights of those who see problems and solutions differently,” she adds.

Indeed, companies that have made neurodiversity a focus of their DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts have seen boosts in engagement, performance, and profits, according to the Korn Ferry Institute’s new report, Neurodiversity: the little-known superpower. In particular, they’ve experienced increased innovation, improved communication, and widespread feelings of psychological safety, leading to more diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures.

To survive, organizations need talent that matches the diversity of the world in which they operate. To thrive, they need to unlock the power and potential of all people

When organizations support and embrace neurodiversity, Haynes says, they open the door for people who experience the world differently, to make a difference. “In the midst of rising concerns about labor shortages and a shrinking workforce, we’re looking at a vast pool of untapped talent,” Haynes says. “The potential for organizations, if they included and accommodated this talent, is enormous.”

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